Gaza, Jerusalem, Brussels (Agencies-3/3/2008): There has been widespread international alarm at the scale of the Israeli military Operation in Gaza that killed more than 120 Palestinians and dealt a major blow to Middle East peace talks. The way ahead looks bleak as Israel vowed on Monday to keep hitting Gaza even as troops pulled out of the Hamas-run territory. On the eve of her latest visit to the region, tomorrow (Tuesday, 4/3/2008). US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on the Palestinians and Israel to resume peace talks which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas broke off in protest at Israel’s Gaza offensive.
Rice’s deputy spokesman Tom Casey said Israel had a "right to defend itself" against Hamas rocket attacks but Israel also had to show appropriate consideration" for the humanitarian situation in Gaza Strip
ISRAELI OFFINSIVE A FAILURE:
Since a dramatic escalation in violence last Wednesday, at least 121 Palestinians, including 22 children and dozens of militants, have been killed, according to Gaza health ministry statistics. More than 350 were wounded.
Two Israeli soldiers were also killed in the clashes and one Israeli civilian died in a rocket attack launched by Gaza militants.
A militant from Islamic Jihad was killed in an Israeli missile strike on the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun late Monday, medics said while Egypt said two Palestinians seriously wounded in Gaza had died in Egyptian hospitals.
Israel launched the operation on Saturday in a bid to stop near-daily rocket fire from Gaza, where the Islamist Hamas movement seized power in June by routing pro-Abbas forces.
But as has been the case with previous Israeli operations, this one failed to halt the rocket fire — two projectiles fell in the coastal city of Ashkelon on Monday, slightly wounding one woman, medics said.
HAMAS HOLD VICTORY RALLY:
Hamas, which admitted to losing some three dozen fighters in the clashes, held a victory march in Gaza City claiming victory over Israeli forces.
A senior Israeli military intelligence official told MPs that over 20 Katyusha-type rockets — also known as Grad — were fired from Gaza since Thursday.
The occupation army claimed all the long-range rockets fired at Israel in recent days were Iranian-made.
The European Union criticized what it called Israel’s "disproportionate use of force" and also demanded an immediate end to Palestinian militant rocket attacks on Israel.
Israeli human rights group B’Tselem expressed concern at what it called the large number of children and other innocent civilians among those killed and wounded in the Gaza Strip
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, holding talks in Israel, urged the Palestinians to resume peace talks despite the bloodshed.
"We have a process that cannot be stopped, that must be recuperated," Solana told CNN. He said Abbas "has to be the one that returns to the table of negotiations".
Meanwhile US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice departed for the region in her latest bid to boost peace efforts which have been stalled since the two sides formally relaunched peace talks at a US conference in November.
Rice’s deputy spokesman Tom Casey said the US "goal is to see that these negotiations resume and ultimately lead to an agreement by the end of the year, which is what the two leaders committed themselves to."
AIM IS PALESTINIAN STATEHOOD, NOT A FINAL AGREEMENT: RICE
Speaking to reporters at a refueling stop in Brussels, Dr. Rice blamed Hamas rocket attacks for the current round of violence but also said she would raise with Israel the "loss of innocent life" in its recent raid.
She added: "I continue to believe that they can get to a deal by the end of the year if everyone’s got the will to do it."
Ms Rice defined a deal as a framework for an eventual Palestinian state, not a final agreement that resolved all the issues between both sides.
ARAB LEAGUE ACCUSES UN SECURITY COUNCIL OF DOUBLE STANDARDS:
The Arab League yesterday (Monday, 3/3/2008) lambasted what it called UN security council double standards when dealing with Israeli aggression against the people of Palestine, especially so when dealing with the situation in Gaza. A statement issued at the end of the 129th session of the Arab League council at the permanent representative level, condemned what it called the UN Security Council’s failure to honour its obligations as a grantor of world peace and security. The statement demanded that the international body stand up to its responsibilities in Gaza, and urged it to urgently intervene and pressure Israel to stop its military aggression in the territories, and to put an end to the siege imposed on Gaza. Equating between the Israeli military operation against Gaza and the sporadic firing of home made Palestinian rockets fired at Israeli settlement in retaliation by militants, the Security Council early Sunday condemned the escalating violence in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel and urged all parties to respect their obligations under international law.
ISRAEL VOWS MORE STRIKES: Speaking at a meeting of his Kadima party in Jerusalem, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert said, "We are not prepared to show any tolerance, period. And we will respond. Our reaction is not limited to a specific operation or day."
"The operation will not end before we achieve our goals and our first goal is a significant reduction of Qassam and Grad rocket fire against Israeli civilians," he said, referring to rockets used by Gaza militants.